I just drafted the chores chapter of my book on being happier families—and in the process, I realized that a lot of you are exactly where our family is with chores. You want your kids to do chores. Maybe you’ve even assigned chores, one way or another. Star chart, rotating chore wheel, whatever.
But still, the chores don’t get done by the kids–they get done by you. Too often, it’s easier to just do it yourself than to ask again, drag a child back downstairs after an uncleared plate or interrupt the math homework he’s finally settled down to to get him to hang up his backpack. Or you’re putting off shifting the laundry onto her plate because it’s just too hard to imagine disturbing your own get-it-done routine. Or maybe you just haven’t started yet—establishing a chore routine is on your list, but you’re waiting for the perfect moment.
How about now?
While drafting the chore chapter, I interviewed Deborah Gilboa, aka Dr. G., a family physician, child behavior expert and the author of Get the Behavior You Want … Without Being the Parent You Hate, as well as a mother of four boys who start taking over the family laundry at age 7 ((at 9, they move on to making lunches for all four brothers, at 11, to emptying the dishwasher and at 13, to making a meal every week). She said plenty of things that struck me, but here was one: like any other habit, it takes about 3 months to establish a chore routine. “You can build the plan and get started a lot faster,” she said, but it takes three months (at a minimum) before it becomes a part of the day-to-day.
The good news there? If we start now, then by spring, we could have children who take out the trash, hang up their own coats, clean up after dinner or (insert chore-of-your-dreams here).
The bad news? Twelve weeks is an awfully long time to stick stars on a chart without feeling like you’re getting anywhere.
I don’t know about you, but that last has clearly been my problem—I make these plans for establishing chores, and then I don’t stick with them long enough. When I’m consistent, things change. When I’m not, they don’t. And sadly, the other big thing I learned about chores while researching and writing this chapter is that while it may feel like doing chores should be your child’s responsibility, in the end, it falls on us. Unlike a failure to do homework, the child who fails to feed the dog, hang up her jacket or take out the trash suffers no natural consequences. (Sorry, but a big built up pile of trash in the kitchen will not bother most children nearly as much as it bothers you.) In fact, the most common consequence—you doing it for her—turns out to be a win as far as she’s concerned.
So here’s my idea. Pick a chore, any chore. Make a plan for how you expect your child to do that chore—when she should do it, what constitutes “done,” how you’ll remind her when she forgets and what if any consequences there will be for failing—and then join me in committing: for the next 12 weeks, you will consistently require that your child, or children, do that one thing.
You will not falter. You will not do her a favor just this once. You will not cut him some slack. You will not let them off the hook. There’s time enough for that when the 12 weeks are up. For now, that one thing will be done by your child, on the schedule you set, no matter how much of your effort that takes (and I guarantee it will take more effort to get the child to do it than it would to do it yourself).
Pick just one thing (or one set of things if your family chores rotate). I know, I was tempted to pick two, too—but making it just one thing makes us much more likely to succeed. Grandiose chore reformation plans are doomed to failure. This is just one thing, right? We can make one thing happen.
Here’s mine: I want the kids to help clean the kitchen after dinner. The chores are already assigned (clear table, do dishes, take out trash) but no one ever does them. They clear their own plates and disappear. I’ve asked them to do this before. But I’ve never lasted a full three months.
This time I will. I will accept that my kids aren’t going to make this easy. I will push through their complaints. I will persist. I will tell myself that I am doing this for me (true) and for them (equally true): we all need to see that they can do things they don’t want to do, when they don’t want to do them.
Who’s with me?
I’d love to hear what chore you’re going to set yourself to teaching, and even more, I’d love to hear how it goes. And I’d love to help. I’ve put together a little weekly dose of encouragement that I’m calling the Chore Cheering Section. Your first email will be on what kids can do and how other parents get them to do it. If you’re not sure where to start, this will be your answer.
Then every week for 12 weeks, I’ll send out ideas, encouragement and an update on our progress. Think of it as What to Expect When You’re Expecting … Your Kids to Get Things Done. But you do have to sign up for it separately, here: it’s not something I’ll be sending out to my email list. I’ll also be blogging at least weekly about my efforts. Visit the blog to comment and share yours, or look for the blog posts on Facebook.
Why do all that? To guarantee that this will be the time you follow through. To paraphrase that old saying, the best time to teach a child to do a chore was a year ago; the second best time is now.
Email me and tell me your plan. What will your kids be doing regularly three months from now? Subject line: CHORE CHALLENGE. (I might contact you to quote you in the book, later.)
Watch the blog–I’ll let you know how it goes here.
Take a dose of strengthening potion and declare yourself all in.
Three months from now, my kids will be cleaning the kitchen after dinner.
What will yours do?
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